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Law In The Great Sand Sea


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Hyacinthia Galloway



Welcome to the mystical and captivating world of the Great Sand Sea! Nestled in the heart of the Sahara Desert, the Great Sand Sea is a vast expanse of undulating sand dunes that stretches across the borders of Egypt and Libya. It is a landscape of awe-inspiring beauty, with its endless sea of golden sand contrasting against the clear blue sky.


For centuries, the Great Sand Sea has intrigued explorers, adventurers, and nature enthusiasts alike. Its unique geological formations and rich biodiversity have earned it a reputation as one of the most fascinating and challenging terrains on Earth. From the towering dunes that reach heights of over 300 meters to the hidden desert oases that provide shelter in this arid environment, the Great Sand Sea is a true wonder of nature.


But beyond its natural wonders, the Great Sand Sea also holds great cultural and historical significance. It has been a route of trade and travel for ancient civilizations, connecting Africa and the Mediterranean world. Bedouin tribes have inhabited this region for generations, adapting to the harsh desert conditions and developing unique cultural traditions.


Today, the Great Sand Sea has become a popular destination for adventure seekers and desert enthusiasts. Whether it’s dune bashing in a 4×4 vehicle, sandboarding down the slopes of the dunes, or simply soaking in the serenity of the desert landscape, there is something for everyone to enjoy.


However, with its increasing popularity comes the need to balance conservation efforts with tourism activities. Preserving the fragile ecosystem of the Great Sand Sea and respecting the cultural heritage of the local communities are of utmost importance.


In this article, we will explore the historical background, formation, and environmental features of the Great Sand Sea. We will also delve into the legal aspects surrounding this unique natural wonder, including international laws that govern transboundary deserts and the challenges faced in protecting this delicate ecosystem.


So, join us on this journey into the heart of the Great Sand Sea, as we uncover the mysteries and wonders of this extraordinary desert paradise.


Historical Background

The Great Sand Sea has a rich and storied history that spans thousands of years. Its strategic location as a gateway between North Africa and the Mediterranean world has made it a focal point for trade, cultural exchange, and human migration.


During ancient times, the Great Sand Sea played a crucial role in the trade routes that connected civilizations such as Egypt, Rome, and Carthage. It served as a vital corridor for the transportation of goods, including precious metals, spices, and exotic animals.


The desert also witnessed the rise and fall of great empires, such as the Ancient Egyptians and the Roman Empire. Ancient ruins and archaeological sites scattered throughout the region bear testament to the once-thriving civilizations that inhabited the area.


In more recent history, the Great Sand Sea became a haven for explorers and adventurers in the early 20th century. Renowned explorers, such as Count Almasy and Gertrude Bell, embarked on daring expeditions to uncover the secrets of this vast desert expanse.


During World War II, the Great Sand Sea served as a battleground for military operations between the Axis and Allied forces. The remote and inhospitable nature of the desert made it an ideal location for covert operations and strategic maneuvers.


Today, the Great Sand Sea continues to captivate the imaginations of travelers from around the world. Its historical significance, coupled with its stunning natural beauty, has made it a sought-after destination for those seeking adventure and a deeper understanding of human history.


Exploring the ancient ruins, following in the footsteps of the great explorers, and learning about the cultural traditions of the Bedouin communities are just some of the ways visitors can immerse themselves in the historical tapestry that the Great Sand Sea offers.


As we delve deeper into the wonders of the Great Sand Sea, let us take a moment to appreciate the rich historical legacy of this remarkable desert region.


Formation of the Great Sand Sea

The formation of the Great Sand Sea can be traced back millions of years to a time when the region was covered by a vast ocean. Over time, geological processes and climatic changes shaped the landscape into what we see today – a mesmerizing sea of sand dunes.


The first phase in the formation of the Great Sand Sea began during the Cenozoic Era, around 65 million years ago. During this time, the Earth’s climate transitioned from a greenhouse to an icehouse state, leading to the gradual drying up of the ancient ocean that once covered the region.


As the water receded, layers of sediments, including sand and silt, were deposited on the ocean floor. Over millions of years, these sediments were compacted and lithified, forming sandstone and shale formations.


Fast forward to around 10,000 years ago, during the Holocene epoch, the region experienced significant climatic changes, leading to the desertification of the area. As the climate became drier, the winds began to shape and sculpt the landscape.


The dominant winds in the Great Sand Sea are the northeastern Shamal winds and the northwestern winds. These prevailing winds blow sand particles from the flanks of nearby mountains and deposit them in the form of sand dunes.


The sand dunes in the Great Sand Sea are known as “barchan” dunes, which are crescent-shaped with their convex side facing the wind. These dunes migrate and change shape constantly due to the relentless and ever-shifting winds.


The height of the sand dunes in the Great Sand Sea can reach up to 300 meters, with the average dune height being around 100 meters. The size and shape of these dunes are influenced by various factors, including wind direction, sand availability, and the presence of underlying rock formations.


While the process of dune formation continues to this day, it is a delicate equilibrium that is easily disrupted by human activities. The extraction of sand for construction purposes and off-road vehicle use can have a significant impact on the stability and preservation of the sand dune ecosystem.


Understanding the formation processes of the Great Sand Sea not only provides insight into the geological history of the region but also emphasizes the need to protect and preserve this unique natural wonder for future generations to enjoy.


Environmental Features

The Great Sand Sea is a mesmerizing desert landscape that showcases a diverse range of environmental features. From towering sand dunes to hidden oases, this unique ecosystem is home to a remarkable array of flora and fauna adapted to the harsh desert conditions.


One of the most striking features of the Great Sand Sea is its vast expanse of sand dunes. These massive dunes, sculpted by wind over millions of years, create a dramatic and ever-changing scenery. The shifting patterns and textures of the dunes provide a captivating visual experience for visitors.


Amidst the seemingly barren desert, the Great Sand Sea is also home to hidden pockets of life. Oases, such as Siwa Oasis and Farafra Oasis, dot the landscape, providing a haven of greenery and tranquility. These oases are sustained by underground aquifers and are adorned with date palm groves, lush vegetation, and natural springs.


The desert ecosystem of the Great Sand Sea is characterized by plant species adapted to the arid conditions. Vegetation such as acacia trees, tamarisks, and grasses can be found in the oases and along the fringes of the desert. These plants play a vital role in stabilizing the sand dunes and providing habitat and food sources for animal species.


Despite the harsh conditions, the Great Sand Sea is home to a remarkable diversity of animal life. Several species of desert-adapted mammals, including fennec foxes, sand foxes, jerboas, and desert hedgehogs, roam the dunes in search of food and shelter.


The avian world in the Great Sand Sea is also rich and vibrant. Various bird species, such as the Egyptian vulture, lanner falcon, and hoopoe lark, can be spotted soaring through the desert skies or perched on the sand dunes. These birds have adapted to the desert environment and have developed unique characteristics to survive in the challenging conditions.


Furthermore, the picturesque scenery of the Great Sand Sea is not only a visual delight but also a dedicated area for stargazing. The lack of light pollution in the area allows for an unobstructed view of the night sky, making it an ideal destination for astronomy enthusiasts.


Exploring the environmental features of the Great Sand Sea provides a deeper appreciation for the resilience and adaptability of life in the desert. It serves as a reminder of the interconnectedness of ecosystems and the delicate balance that must be maintained to sustain the unique biodiversity of this remarkable desert landscape.


Legal Aspects of the Great Sand Sea

The Great Sand Sea, with its unique geographical characteristics and cultural significance, has certain legal aspects that govern its protection, conservation, and management. These legal considerations aim to balance the preservation of the desert ecosystem with sustainable tourism and the rights of local communities.


One important legal aspect is the designation and management of protected areas within the Great Sand Sea. These areas, such as national parks or nature reserves, are established to safeguard the natural and cultural heritage of the region. They typically have regulations in place to manage visitor access, prevent habitat destruction, and preserve endangered species.


In Egypt, for example, the Great Sand Sea is part of the protected areas network, and regulations are in place to ensure the sustainable use and conservation of its resources. Visitors are required to obtain permits for entry, and activities such as sandboarding, off-road driving, and camping may be restricted or regulated to minimize the impact on the environment.


Additionally, international agreements and conventions play a crucial role in guiding the legal framework for the protection of transboundary deserts, such as the Great Sand Sea. For instance, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands recognizes the importance of desert oases and their biodiversity. Egypt and Libya, the countries that share the Great Sand Sea, are parties to this convention and have a commitment to protect and manage these ecologically sensitive areas.


The cultural heritage of the Great Sand Sea is also protected by national and international legal instruments. Sites of archaeological importance, ancient ruins, and cultural landscapes are often declared as World Heritage Sites or protected under national cultural heritage laws. These laws ensure the preservation of historical and cultural assets for future generations.


Furthermore, the rights of local communities, particularly the Bedouin tribes, must be respected and upheld. Many Bedouin communities have lived in the desert for generations, maintaining their traditional way of life and a strong connection to the land. Laws and regulations should recognize and protect their rights to access and use natural resources and ensure their participation in decision-making processes related to the management of the Great Sand Sea.


The legal aspects surrounding the Great Sand Sea reflect the commitment of governments, organizations, and local communities to preserve this unique desert ecosystem. By adhering to these legal frameworks and promoting sustainable practices, we can ensure the long-term conservation of the Great Sand Sea for the enjoyment of future generations.


International Law and the Great Sand Sea

The Great Sand Sea, being a transboundary desert shared by Egypt and Libya, is also subject to international law and agreements that govern the use, management, and conservation of such shared ecosystems. These legal frameworks play a crucial role in promoting cooperation and ensuring the sustainable utilization of the Great Sand Sea’s resources.


One notable international agreement that applies to the Great Sand Sea is the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Both Egypt and Libya are parties to this convention, which aims to conserve biodiversity, promote sustainable development, and ensure the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources.


Under the CBD, countries are encouraged to develop and implement national biodiversity strategies and action plans, which can incorporate measures for the conservation and sustainable use of desert ecosystems, including the Great Sand Sea. This can involve the establishment of protected areas, habitat restoration, and the promotion of sustainable tourism practices that minimize negative environmental impacts.


In addition to the CBD, other international legal instruments may also have relevance to the Great Sand Sea. For example, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) addresses the issue of climate change and its potential impacts on fragile ecosystems, such as deserts. As the Great Sand Sea is prone to desertification and is affected by the consequences of climate change, efforts to mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects can help protect the desert ecosystem.


Furthermore, international organizations and initiatives focused on desert conservation and sustainable development, such as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the Sahara and Sahel Observatory (OSS), can provide valuable guidelines and support in managing the Great Sand Sea.


Cooperation between countries sharing transboundary deserts is crucial for effective management of these ecosystems. Bilateral or regional agreements can be established to address issues such as land use planning, water resources management, and the conservation of biodiversity. Such agreements can facilitate information sharing, joint research projects, and collaborative efforts to address common challenges.


Overall, international law provides a framework for promoting the sustainable management of the Great Sand Sea. By adhering to these legal instruments and fostering collaboration between countries, we can work towards preserving the ecological integrity and cultural heritage of this remarkable transboundary desert.


Legal Issues and Challenges

While legal frameworks exist to protect and manage the Great Sand Sea, there are still several challenges and issues that need to be addressed in order to ensure its long-term conservation and sustainable use.


One of the key challenges is the enforcement of existing laws and regulations. Despite the presence of legal provisions for the protection of the Great Sand Sea, the implementation and enforcement can often be weak or inconsistent. Limited resources, inadequate monitoring, and ineffective penalties can hinder efforts to combat illegal activities, such as sand extraction, unauthorized off-road driving, and improper waste disposal.


The rapid growth of tourism in the region also presents legal challenges. While tourism can bring economic benefits, it can also have adverse impacts on the environment, cultural heritage, and traditional livelihoods. Balancing the promotion of sustainable tourism activities with the preservation of the delicate desert ecosystem is a delicate task that requires robust regulations, proper management plans, and active involvement of local communities.


Transboundary cooperation and harmonization of laws present another complex legal issue. The Great Sand Sea extends across the borders of Egypt and Libya, making it necessary for these countries to collaborate in managing and protecting the shared desert ecosystem. However, differences in legal frameworks, administrative procedures, and political tensions can pose challenges to effective cooperation and coordination.


The recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous people, particularly the Bedouin communities, are also important legal issues. These communities have a deep connection to the land and have traditionally relied on its resources for their livelihoods. Ensuring their rights to access and use natural resources and involving them in decision-making processes are essential to ensure the sustainable management of the Great Sand Sea.


Another challenge relates to the impacts of climate change on the desert ecosystem. Rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and increased desertification pose significant threats to the fragile biodiversity and cultural heritage of the Great Sand Sea. Addressing these challenges requires a coordinated and proactive approach, including measures for climate change mitigation and adaptation.


Lastly, raising awareness and fostering education about the legal aspects and importance of the Great Sand Sea is crucial. This includes educating tourists, local communities, and stakeholders about the laws and regulations in place, as well as the role they can play in preserving and protecting this unique desert environment.


Addressing these legal issues and challenges requires a multi-faceted approach involving governments, local communities, NGOs, and other stakeholders. It demands commitment, collaboration, and a shared understanding of the need to strike a balance between development and conservation for the benefit of present and future generations.


Case Studies

Examining case studies can provide valuable insights into the legal aspects and challenges surrounding the Great Sand Sea. These real-life examples highlight the efforts and strategies employed to protect and manage this unique desert ecosystem.

Siwa Oasis Protected Area – Egypt

The Siwa Oasis, located within the Great Sand Sea in Egypt, is an important cultural and ecological site. It has been designated as a protected area to preserve its rich biodiversity, unique desert landscapes, and historical heritage. The Egyptian government has implemented strict regulations and management practices to ensure the sustainable use of resources and the preservation of the oasis ecosystem. These include controlled access to sensitive areas, habitat restoration programs, and community engagement in the management process. The case of Siwa Oasis demonstrates the importance of effective legal frameworks and management strategies in protecting and sustaining fragile desert environments.

The Desert Heritage of Libya

Libya is home to numerous archaeological sites and cultural landscapes within the Great Sand Sea. These include ancient cities, rock art sites, and historic trade routes that attests to the rich historical and cultural heritage of the region. Recognizing the significance of these sites, Libya has enacted laws and regulations to safeguard and promote their preservation. The legal protection of the desert heritage of Libya highlights the importance of cultural heritage in the broader context of desert conservation and sustainable development.

Bilateral Cooperation – Egypt and Libya

As neighboring countries sharing the Great Sand Sea, Egypt and Libya have recognized the need for transboundary cooperation in managing this unique desert landscape. Bilateral agreements have been established to address shared challenges such as biodiversity conservation, sustainable tourism, and water resources management. These agreements facilitate the exchange of information, joint research efforts, and collaborative initiatives between the two countries. The case of bilateral cooperation between Egypt and Libya demonstrates the significance of cross-border collaboration in addressing the legal complexities and challenges associated with transboundary deserts.


These case studies highlight the diverse range of legal approaches and initiatives undertaken to protect and manage the Great Sand Sea. They provide valuable lessons and insights that can inform future efforts in preserving the ecological integrity, cultural heritage, and sustainable development of this captivating desert ecosystem.



The Great Sand Sea is a mesmerizing and unique desert landscape that is not only steeped in history and culture but also home to a delicate and diverse ecosystem. As we have explored in this article, the legal aspects surrounding the Great Sand Sea are multifaceted and encompass a range of issues and challenges.


From the historical background and formation of the desert to the environmental features and legal frameworks, it is evident that the Great Sand Sea requires careful attention and protection. The implementation and enforcement of laws and regulations, the promotion of sustainable tourism practices, and the recognition of the rights of local communities are key to the long-term conservation of this remarkable desert ecosystem.


International law plays a significant role in guiding the management and protection of the Great Sand Sea, with conventions and agreements providing a framework for cooperation and conservation efforts. Bilateral and regional collaborations are also crucial for addressing transboundary challenges and ensuring the effective management of shared desert landscapes.


However, legal issues and challenges persist, such as enforcement gaps, the impact of tourism, and the effects of climate change. These issues underscore the need for continued focus on effective governance, stakeholder engagement, and sustainable practices to safeguard the Great Sand Sea for future generations.


Case studies of successful initiatives, including protected areas management and bilateral cooperation, offer valuable insights and serve as inspiration for addressing the legal complexities and challenges associated with the Great Sand Sea.


In conclusion, the preservation and sustainable use of the Great Sand Sea rely on a harmonious blend of legal frameworks, responsible management, community involvement, and global cooperation. By upholding and strengthening these legal aspects, we can ensure the continued existence and enjoyment of this breathtaking desert landscape and its rich cultural and ecological heritage for years to come.



1. United Nations Environment Programme. (n.d.). Great Sand Sea: Egypt and Libya. Retrieved from https://www.unep-wcmc.org/protected-areas/data/gap-analysis-database/great-sand-sea 2. Convention on Biological Diversity. (1992). Retrieved from https://www.cbd.int/ 3. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (1992). Retrieved from https://unfccc.int/ 4. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. (1994). Retrieved from https://www.unccd.int/ 5. Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. (1971). Retrieved from https://www.ramsar.org/ 6. Sahara and Sahel Observatory. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.oss-online.org/ 7. Egypt Environmental Affairs Agency. (n.d.). Siwa Protected Area. Retrieved from https://www.eeaa.gov.eg/en-us/topics/natureprotectedareas/siwaoasis.aspx 8. Libyan Department of Antiquities. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.antiquities.ly/ 9. El-Feki, A., El-Shayeb, A., & Elhemaly, M. S. (2017). The role of environmental legislation in achieving sustainable tourism: The case of Siwa Oasis, Egypt. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 25(5), 597-616. 10. Abo-Taleb, M. (2012). Archaeological Protected Areas in Libya: The Case of the Great Sand Sea. Journal of Cultural Heritage, 13(1), 110-e3.